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March 2, 2024 | Posted by Robert Winfree
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MAIN CARD (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
#12 Jairzinho Rozenstruik (257 lbs.) vs. Shamil Gaziev (261 lbs.)
Tyson Pedro (205.5 lbs.) vs. Vitor Petrino (205.5 lbs.)
#8 Muhammad Mokaev (126 lbs.) vs. #7 Alex Perez (125.5 lbs.)
Bekzat Almakhan (136 lbs.) vs. #13 Umar Nurmagomedov (136 lbs.)
#12 Stephen Erceg (126 lbs.) vs. #9 Matt Schnell (126 lbs.)

Eryk Anders (185.5 lbs.) vs. Jamie Pickett (186 lbs.)
Vinicius Oliveira (135.5 lbs.) vs. Bernardo Sopaj (135.5 lbs.)
Javid Basharat (136.3 lbs.) vs. Aiemann Zahabi (135.5 lbs.)
Christian Duncan (186 lbs.) vs. Claudio Ribeiro (185.5 lbs.)
A.J. Cunningham (155.5 lbs.) vs. Ludovit Klein (156 lbs.)
Abdul-Kareem Al-Selwady (156 lbs.) vs. Loik Radzhabov (155.5 lbs.)

Hello everyone and welcome to 411mania’s LIVE coverage of UFC on ESPN+ 96, I’m Robert Winfree and I’ll be your host for the event. We’ve got one of the least compelling cards that the UFC has put on in years here but let’s go through the motions and look at some of the fights. The main event is heavyweights because we can’t have nice things, but Jairzinho Rozenstruik is trying to find some kind of consistency at this point in his career against undefeated Shamil Gaziev who is trying to becoming something in the division. Beyond that I’m most interested in watching Umar Nurmagomedov because he’s demonstrated more than enough talent to be a title contender but he’s returning from a shoulder injury here. There’s a couple of flyweight fights on the main card that bear keeping track of, and rising prospect Javid Basharat competes on the prelims. After that it’s kind of a crap shoot, not much is standing out on paper but let’s hope for good action in the cage.

UFC on ESPN+ 96 comes to us from the UFC warehouse that doubles as the Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier, and Michael Bisping will be calling the action for us. Nevada does allow for the use of Instant Replay so we’ll see if it comes up at all here, and keep in mind we’re in the smaller 25 foot cage as well.

Abdul-Kareem Al-Selwady brings a five fight winning streak into his UFC debut and hopes to build on that momentum with a win here. Loik Radzhabov has gone 1-1 in the UFC but he is coming off of a setback against Mateusz Rebecki and now tries to avoid his first UFC losing streak. Fairly close one on the odds but Al-Selwady is your -155 favorite to Radzhabov’s +130.

Lightweight Bout: Abdul-Kareem Al-Selwady (15-3, 156 lbs.) vs. Loik Radzhabov (17-5-1, 155.5 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Radzhabov is three inches taller but the reach is identical. They touch gloves to get us going. A lot of movement from Al-Selwady early then he lands a leg kick. Radzhabov looks to push forward but he’s not cage cutting much yet. Al-Selwady avoids a left hook then lands a spinning back kick. Radzhabov really can’t get a handle on the circling of Al-Selwady yet, despite it being entirely predictable circling to the left of Radzhabov. Radzhabov lands a couple of rights then they clinch up. Al-Selwady starts looking for trips as he gets Radzhabov on the fence, then he briefly slips to the back before they break apart. Radzhabov with a left hook then an uppercut. Al-Selwady tries to kick but gets punched down, Radzhabov with hard lefts on the mat now as Al-Selwady wall walks back up. Radzhabov is in the ride position now and works to mat return and land some extra punches along the way. Eventually Radhzabov gets on top and lands punches then grabs at a front choke as they stand but Al-Selwady is able to break free. We get a time out once they break and the ref reads them both the riot act about cage grabbing, good job by the ref there. Al-Selwady gets caught in another front headlock and eats knees before getting away from Radzhabov. They trade rights on the feet, Al-Selwady might have landed better, then that’ll basically be the last exchange of the round.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Al-Selwady but a close one

ROUND TWO: Al-Selwady gets back to circling, and Radzhabov misses a front kick. Radzhabov lands a right hand then a front kick, they trade and Al-Selwady grabs a single leg to stifle the offense and that hits the fence. Nothing much happens there and they break without incident. Leg kicks go back and forth then Radzhabov lands a left hand. Both men miss rights. Bit of a left hook from Radzhabov. Al-Selwady lands an inside leg kick. Radzhabov gets frustrated with the movement and tries a jumping knee but eats a right hand for his troubles. Leg kick from Al-Selwady. They trade in close but nothing lands clean. Radzhabov pushes close and lands a short right. More leg kicks are traded. Uppercut from Radzhabov but Al-Selwady with a takedown then he grabs a front headlock but Radzhabov pulls free quickly. Jab from Radzhabov. Al-Selwady misses a right hand. Radzhabov gets close and avoids a single leg. Al-Selwady keeps swinging a right hand that isn’t landing yet, but he is able to hit a double leg into half guard. Al-Selwady passes to side control, he’s not able to get the angle he wants and puts himself back into half guard. The round ends as Radzhabov fights up and hits a couple of uppercuts.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Al-Selwady, 20-18 Al-Selwady overall

ROUND THREE: Radzhabov looks for a quick single leg but can’t finish it. Al-Selwady hits a double leg but can’t control it and he lands a couple of rights. Bit of a left from Radzhabov, then he bulls forward and floors Al-Selwady with a right hand then lands several hammer fists, probably more than necessary before the ref jumps in.

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Loik Radzhabov via TKO, punches, at :49 of Round 3

The Final Round Finish Club thanks Mr. Radzhabov for his work this morning. Mic time for Radzhabov and the translator, he talks about working hard for six months to get here and hopes he gets a bonus because he spent a lot of money for this one and needs it. Always a nice look for a billion dollar company to have their fighters constantly in the hole financially. He says he counts on his right hand and thinks his lackluster round two was drinking a bit too much water between rounds and he fixed that between rounds two and three.

Nice finish from Radzhabov here, his clubbing right hand doesn’t hit the jaw but clips the temple and that rattles Al-Selwady enough to drop him. I’m sticking by calling this a late finish from the ref though.

Ludovit Klein hasn’t lost in his last four fights but all of those have also gone the distance and now he’s hoping for a slightly more entertaining performance while also setting his sights on a slightly bigger name next time. AJ Cunningham stepped in for Joel Alvarez on very short notice here but he did win his last fight and could make a major statement here with a win in his UFC debut. It’s not surprising to see Klein as a heavy -900 favorite to +600 for Cunningham.

Lightweight Bout: A.J. Cunningham (11-3, 155.5 lbs.) vs. Ludovit Klein (20-4-1, 156 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Cunningham is three inches taller while Klein has an inch and a half of reach advantage. Southpaw for Klein, they both try head kicks then Klein hits a takedown. Full guard for Cunningham but Klein is sneaking in some short elbows. Cunningham kicks Klein free and stands but Klein backs him to the fence and lands a couple of body shots then a body kick. Hard jab from Klein, Cunningham responds with a knee but gets tied up and Klein slips to his back then rides him down to the mat. Cunningham wall walks but eats a hard knee then an elbow from Klein. Left hand from Klein. Cunningham lands a body kick. A couple of inside leg kicks from Cunningham. Klein lands a bit of a high kick. A couple of hard punches from Klein then a high kick. They trade in close again but Klein is just getting the better of all of these exchanges. Klein lands a couple of body shots then a body kick. Hard left hand from Klein. Another left from Klein then a one two stuns Cunningham for a second. Cunningham is trying to throw back but he’s just a step behind in these exchanges. Inside leg kicks to back and forth. Cunningham lands a body kick. A series of front kicks from Klein then a couple of body shots. More body shots from Klein, he’s breaking Cunningham down with those. Cunningham is trying to throw back but a couple of body shots then a head kick land. Klein with a final front kick to the body that folds Cunningham up and drops him, that’ll prompt the stoppage.

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Ludovit Klein via TKO, body kick, at 4:36 of Round 1

The First Round Finish Club thanks Mr. Klein for his work this afternoon. Mic time for Klein he says he trains hard every day and his goal is still to be champion one day. He knew Cunningham was tough so he had to rely on body work.

Klein was just the better striker all fight, and he’d been working the body all fight. Breaking down your opponent with body work is how it’s done, you almost never hit just one and get a good fighter out of there. But also that last front kick is strong, well timed, and incredibly well placed. Solid overall work from Klein.

Christian Leroy Duncan has gone 2-1 in the UFC but he’s coming off of a win and is looking for his first UFC winning streak. Claudio Ribeiro has gone 1-2 in the UFC and he’s trying to avoid his first UFC losing streak with a win here. Duncan is a solid -380 favorite to +300 for Ribeiro.

Middleweight Bout: Christian Duncan (9-1, 186 lbs.) vs. Claudio Ribeiro (11-4, 185.5 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Duncan is an inch taller with two inches of reach advantage. Both men come out looking to kick. Duncan with a body kick as well as inside leg kicks. Ribeiro blocks a spinning elbow. A lot of jabs coming from Duncan then a front kick as well. Some stance switching from Duncan now. Spinning back kick from Duncan lands, Ribeiro didn’t like that. Ribeiro is basically a heavy bag right now, he needs to get his own offense going. Elbow from Duncan lands. Ribeiro misses a few punches but now he’s bulling forward and looking to engage. Duncan backs Ribeiro to the fence and lands elbows and knees before separating. Right hand from Duncan, Ribeiro responds with one of his own and that gets Duncan to back off and reset. Ribeiro catches a kick, Duncan tries a jumping wheel kick but misses it and Ribeiro then tries a takedown against the fence. Things stall there, Duncan avoids an elbow and then gets Ribeiro on the fence. They fight for position in the clinch for a bit, and that’s where the round will end.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Duncan, borderline 10-8

ROUND TWO: Ribeiro misses a left hook to start the round. Duncan is circling and Ribeiro forces a clinch again and they hit the fence. Duncan is able to push free, but then clinches up again. Ribeiro tries to defend against the fence, Duncan drops for a double leg and gets Ribeiro down into side control. Full mount for Duncan, nice pass, and he starts landing punches and elbows while all Ribeiro does is cover up. Ribeiro gives up the back, Duncan just keeps hitting him until the ref steps in.

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Christian Leroy Duncan via TKO, punches, at 1:57 of Round 2

Mic time for Duncan after that showcase, he jokes about his wrestling being great and then talks about seriously working all of his overall game for this fight. He finally is feeling more comfortable in the cage and all the work outside is starting to really pay off now. He talks us through the finish and then to close he’d like to be on the upcoming England card after three Apex cards and he’d like to have fans see him work.

Not a whole lot to discuss here, Duncan got a showcase against someone clearly overmatched and made the most of it.

Aiemann Zahabi has gone 4-2 in the UFC and is on a three fight winning streak, a win here might earn him some ranked opposition next even in a stacked division like bantamweight. Javid Basharat is undefeated including four fights in the UFC, he’s coming off of an unfortunate No Contest but he’s hoping to put that firmly in the rear view mirror with another impressive win here. The odds are heavily with Basharat at -750 while +525 for Zahabi might tempt a few gamblers who like the long shots.

Bantamweight Bout: Javid Basharat (10-4 1 NC, 136.3 lbs.) vs. Aiemann Zahabi (10-2, 135.5 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Basharat is an inch taller with half an inch of reach advantage, he’s also eight years younger. Early stance switching from Basharat, out of southpaw he lands a side kick to the leg. Circling from Zahabi, per usual. Basharat checks some leg kicks then misses a front kick, he’s still switching stance and working those long range weapons. Bit of a right hand from Zahabi. Zahabi checks a calf kick. More pressure from Basharat then he lands a side kick. Zahabi tries to come forward and misses punches. Bit of a body kick from Basharat. Both men miss left hooks. Zahabi lands a calf kick then avoids a head kick. Uppercut from Basharat then a high kick behind it. Both men fall a little short with rights. Side kicks from Basharat now to the leg and body. A side kick from Basharat off balances Zahabi but Zahabi bounces back up quickly. Leg kick from Zahabi. Zahabi tries to slam in a few more high kicks, they’re blocked but he’s being brought into a higher activity style than he normally uses. Some feinting to close the round.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Basharat

ROUND TWO: Basharat misses a spinning back kick. Both men land punches in close. They trade some jabs while trying to find the range. Basharat is able to fight just a bit longer than Zahabi and keeps him missing. Basharat checks a calf kick. Zahabi gets close and lands a couple of punches. Jabs again from Basharat, he’s being consistent with his offense. Front kick from Basharat. Bit of a head kick from Basharat then a knee to the body. Solid uppercut from Basharat lands. Zahabi misses a right hand. Bit of a combination from Zahabi but he can’t find consistent success. Body kicks from Basharat again as he keeps picking away at Zahabi. Glancing left from Basharat. Zahabi avoids a double leg. One two from Zahabi. Zahabi lands a jab, he might have finally frustrated Basharat a bit now. Basharat lands a right hand. Basharat tries another takedown but Zahabi easily defends. Basharat starts just walking forward looking to engage. Zahabi hits the body a couple of times. Bit of a left hook from Zahabi, then a right hand stumbles Basharat just before the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Zahabi, 19-19 overall

ROUND THREE: Basharat gets back to forward motion and lands a spinning back kick. Zahabi keeps circling and lands a bit of a right hand but then Basharat with a counter body kick. Hard body kick from Zahabi. Basharat lands a right hand. Bit of a side kick from Basharat. They both miss left hooks, then Zahabi lands a body shot. Front kicks from Basharat land but he eats a couple of lefts in response. Basharat lands an uppercut. Left to the body from Basharat. Both men trade in close. Zahabi lands a couple of punches then rolls under the counter. Head kick from Zahabi lands but Basharat just eats it. Jabs from Zahabi now. Basharat lands a right hand and they trade in close again. One two from Zahabi then a left hook. Bit of an uppercut from Zahabi. Zahabi gets the back standing and pushes things into the fence. Basharat is able to break free pretty quickly and they reset. Zahabi just keeps pushing forward and punching, Basharat might be the one fading at this point. Both men swing but don’t quite land as the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Zahabi but a close one, 29-28 Zahabi overall

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Aiemann Zahabi via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)

No interview for Zahabi, but he adjusted very well after a difficult first round.

Vinicius Oliveira brings a two fight winning streak into his UFC debut, he’s hoping to make the most of his only chance at a good first impression on the audience. Bernado Sopaj stepped up on short notice to fill in here but he’s on a three fight winning streak and looking to surprise some people with a winning performance in his UFC debut, I think he’s also the first Albanian to make his way into the UFC but don’t quote me on that. Very close one here, -135 for Oliveira to +115 on Sopaj.

Bantamweight Bout: Vinicius Oliveira (19-3, 135.5 lbs.) vs. Bernardo Sopaj (11-2, 135.5 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Oliveira is three inches taller with four and a half inches of reach advantage. Southpaw for Oliveira, Sopaj does a bit of stance switching as he circles. Sopaj misses a high kick. Both men miss kicks, they’re just range finding. Both men miss punches in close. A bit of stance switching from both men now as they look for an angle to attack each other. Inside leg kick from Sopaj. Oliveira lands a left hand. Calf kick from Oliveira. Another Oliveira calf kick lands. Oliveira tries a wheel kick, bad ideas as Sopaj takes him down into half guard with that. Oliveira looks for a leg entanglement to force a scramble but Sopaj settles things down and gets into the full guard of Oliveira. Sopaj with some elbows and body punches. Oliveira kicks Sopaj off and they reset on the feet. Bit of a front kick from Oliveira. Sopaj lands a head kick but then eats a counter left hand. Oliveira lands a couple of calf kicks. Right to the body from Sopaj. Double leg from Sopaj into full mount and he looks to unload but Oliveira scrambles to full guard. They’ll end the round trading blows on the mat.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Sopaj

ROUND TWO: Sopaj quickly tries a takedown, it takes a bit but he is able to finish it into half guard. Oliveira looks to wall walk, Sopaj gets to the ride position then fully takes the back with both hooks in. Sopaj with some punches to the body and head from the back as he works to flatten things out. Oliveira shrimps to get half guard but he’s taking punches the whole way. Sopaj gets the back again and keeps landing punches then moves to mount. Oliveira keeps trying to roll and finally gets half guard but he’s way behind at the moment. Sopaj moves to the back again and keeps landing punches while trying to keep Oliveira flat. Oliveira stands and Sopaj keeps the backpack position. Eventually Oliveira slings him off and gets on top then starts unloading from on top in half guard. Oliveira passes towards mount and gets the ride position. Sopaj stands but Oliveira drags him back down and gets on top in full guard and keeps landing body to head punches. Oliveira keeps throwing bombs and moves to half guard, then elbows the kidney because he’s mean. Elbow from Oliveira. Sopaj eventually is able to stand but eats a high kick. Oliveira keeps coming forward, they clinch up then trade punches and Oliveira with a glancing head kick then a body shot to close the round.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Oliveira, 19-19 overall

ROUND THREE: Oliveira gets back on pressure right away, and land a bit of a body kick. Left hand from Sopaj. Bit of a head kick from Oliveira then he swings a couple of punches. Both men miss punches. Oliveira is pressuring forward and lands a couple of punches. Sopaj tries to fire back but Oliveira is starting to get to him reliably. More kicks from Oliveira then a right hook. Sopaj lands a left hand. Calf kick from Oliveira then a right hand behind it. Combination from Oliveira including a calf kick. Front kick then a one two from Oliveira. Sopaj lands a jab. Oliveira with an inside leg kick then a calf kick. One two from Oliveira. Bit of a combination from Oliveira. Glancing left from Oliveira. Sopaj misses a left hand. Solid right hand from Oliveira. Calf kick from Oliveira then a couple of punches. Clubbing right from Oliveira lands. More leg kicks from Oliveira. Oliveira lands a left hand. Sopaj blocks a few kicks but he’s not really throwing back at this point. Sopaj avoids a double leg but eats a combination for that. Oliveira with a few jabs then a calf kick hobbles Sopaj then he follows up with a flying knee that ENDS things.

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Vinicius Oliveira via KO, flying knee, at 4:41 of Round 3

The Final Round Finish Club thanks Mr. Oliveira for his work this afternoon. Mic time for Oliveira after that one, he feels blessed and knows he made mistakes early but learned from them and then thanks Sopaj for the short notice fight then thinks he’s earned a bonus. I’d say he’s got a very good chance. He wants the bonus as he had a child born this week. To close he talks us through the finish.

The calf kick and left hook that sent Sopaj staggering across the cage isn’t shown, but man the flying knee follow up is just brutal. That’s a KO of the Year nominee from Oliveira.

Eryk Anders has gone just 1-3 in his last four fights and he lost an entertaining bout his last time out, now he’s trying to avoid another losing streak and hopefully get his career back on track but with a UFC run dating back to 2017 and 16 total fights in the UFC time is running down if he’s going to make a legitimate run of things. Jamie Pickett has gone just 2-6 in the UFC and is on a four fight losing streak, if he’s going to save his job he’s in a must win scenario here. Anders is your favorite at -535 while a Pickett win pays at +400.

Middleweight Bout: Eryk Anders (15-8 1 NC, 185.5 lbs.) vs. Jamie Pickett (13-10, 186 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Pickett is an inch taller with five inches of reach advantage. Southpaw for Anders and they touch gloves to get us going. Some pressure from Anders early, he tries a single leg against the fence but winds up settling for a clinch. Pickett with a knee to the body. Anders keeps things on the fence and lands some uppercuts before Pickett gets free. One two from Anders. Pickett slips a left hand then lands a counter right. Bit of a high kick from Anders then he tries another takedown, this time he finishes a double leg against the fence then slips to the back as Pickett bounces up. Pickett gets chest to chest then gets free but he eats a left hand along the way. Both men trade but it’s Pickett that drops Anders with a right hand. Pickett gets on top looking to finish but Anders sweeps up and hits a double leg then lands punches while Pickett is sitting on the fence. Some short rights from Anders then Pickett wall walks and gets free. Anders lands a couple of lefts then a high kick. Right hand from Pickett then they tie up and they’ll end the round in the clinch.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Pickett but Anders might have gotten it back by the end

ROUND TWO: Both men miss rights. Anders with an inside leg kick. Pickett avoids a left hand then partially lands a high kick. Anders keeps pushing forward, he avoids a right hand and gets a clinch on the fence. Some knees go back and forth then they break apart. Both men land power hand punches but then Anders follows up with another left. A couple of lefts from Anders in close then he hits a double leg against the fence. Anders with some punches to the body and head while Pickett is sitting on the fence. Pickett stands into another clinch on the fence. Anders tries a single leg, can’t finish it though and they trade punches on the break. A couple of punches from Anders land in close then he hits another double leg. Anders passes to full mount, then gets a leg ride as he starts landing left hands. Pickett to his knees and he’s trying to stand but Anders keeps him down and lands punches as the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Anders, 19-19 overall

ROUND THREE: Pickett comes out southpaw for the last round and they trade jabs. Anders keeps pushing forward and they trade lefts. Anders hits a double leg and gets on top in half guard. Pickett avoids an arm triangle attempt but he’s still stuck on his back. Some short blows from Anders land as Pickett gets full guard. More short elbows from Anders and Pickett is cut now. Anders passes to a leg drag position and resumes landing punches and elbows. Pickett goes to turtle and he’s able to stand but Anders is on his back looking for mat returns. Takedown from Anders and he’s back on top. Anders lands a few punches and moves to half guard. Pickett is able to scoot to the fence and sit but Anders has a double collar tie and moves towards a crucifix, he grabs at a choke and then lands punches from top position as the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Anders, 29-28 Anders overall

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Eryk Anders via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-28 x2)

I guess there could be a 10-8 in there, no interview for Anders as we’ve run over time for the prelims. Main card time.

Matt Schnell has been up and down recently, going 2-2 with 1 No Contest in his last five fights but he’s coming off of a loss and is trying to avoid his first losing streak since 2017. Steve Erceg has gone 2-0 in the UFC and is on an overall 10 fight winning streak, now he’s hoping to continue climbing the flyweight ranks with another win over a ranked opponent. It’s not surprising to see Erceg as the favorite at -455 to +350 for Schnell.

Flyweight Bout: #12 Stephen Erceg (11-1, 126 lbs.) vs. #9 Matt Schnell (16-7 1 NC, 126 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: These two are the same height but Schnell has two inches of reach advantage. They touch gloves to get us going. Both men probe with the jab early as they circle and look for angles. One two from Erceg lands. Schnell bulls in close but eats a knee as they tie up. Both men land elbows in close then they break. Schnell is cut around the left eyebrow. Both men back to jabbing as they move around. Bit of a right hand from Erceg. They tie up and Erceg lands a knee before they break. Right hand from Erceg. Bit of a calf kick from Erceg. Short left hook from Erceg in close. They trade in close, Schnell is starting to extend his combinations and that’s working better for him. Left hooks go back and forth then Erceg lands a body kick. That cut on Schnell’s face is leaking badly. Hard right hand from Erceg stumbles Schnell. They trade in close again, both men have been tagged at different points. Erceg lands a right hand. Schnell with a right hand as well. Erceg tries a single leg but Schnell defends and nothing comes of it. Right hand from Erceg lands. A final one two from Erceg, then a delayed jab lands to close the round.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Erceg

ROUND TWO: Both men back to probing with jabs. A left hook from Erceg SLEEPS Schnell and that’s it.

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Stephen Erceg via KO, punch, at :26 of Round 2

Mic time for Erceg and he feels great, he jokes that he still doesn’t have much head movement but he can absolutely strike. He talks us through the finish then says he wants a fight with Brandon Moreno despite Moreno coming off of two losses. That’s a heck of a call out, seems unlikely but I appreciate him aiming high.

Fundamentals done right will take you a long way, Erceg with a pretty standard flashing jab, right to the body then a left hook up top and he puts Schnell out cold.

Umar Nurmagomedov is undefeated including four wins in the UFC all of which have seen him climb in the eyes of pundits and analysts, a great many of us pointing to him as a future champion in the weight class if he can stay healthy and active. Nurmagomedov was supposed to fight Cory Sandhagen in August of last year but a shoulder injury forced him out and now he’s back looking to remind everyone about his incredible upside in the sport. Bekzat Almakhan is on either an eight or nine fight winning streak depending on how you count a modified rules bout he had in 2021, but either way that’s a solid streak coming into his UFC debut and he’s hoping to pull an all time upset of the rising force that is Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov is the biggest favorite on the card at a whopping -1200 while +750 for Almakhan might get a few people to take a flier on him in the betting scheme of things.

Bantamweight Bout: Bekzat Almakhan (16-1, 136 lbs.) vs. #13 Umar Nurmagomedov (16-0, 136 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Nurmagomedov has an inch of height and reach over Almakhan. Southpaw for Nurmagomedov. Both men probe with kicks early as they feint around. Body kick from Almakhan. An overhand right off balances Nurmagomedov but they tie up and Nurmagomedov hits a single leg to get on top in half guard. Nurmagomedov moves to side control and lands a few elbows. Almakhan scrambles but gives up the back and Nurmagomedov gets one hook in then pulls him back down. Both hooks in for Nurmagomedov now and he starts landing short punches to try and open up the choke. Almakhan is hand fighting well enough but he’s not really able to address the position just yet. Nurmagomedov looks to transition to an arm triangle as Alamkhan rolls but he winds up just getting on top in full guard. Some more short elbows and punches from Nurmagomedov land, then a harder elbow connects as well. Another elbow from Nurmagomedov. The round ends with Nurmagomedov still on top landing some short elbows.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Nurmagomedov

ROUND TWO: Nurmagomedov back to stance switching and feinting forward. Side kick from Nurmagomedov, he’s doing a lot of southpaw work right now. Almakhan avoids a head kick. Nurmagomedov keeps pressuring things towards the fence, he lands a stiff jab then a single leg to get back on top. Nurmagomedov works and passes to side control, Almakhan times a sweep very well and gets up and free, nearly landing a head kick as they do. Almakhan misses a punch and Nurmagomedov gets a takedown into side control. Nurmagomedov moves to half guard for control and starts landing elbows. Nurmagomedov into full mount with two minutes left. Some elbows from Nurmagomedov, then punches to follow up and he starts unloading but Almakhan is able to shrimp and get up and free very quickly. Instant takedown from Nurmagomedov and he’s into the ride position then back to full mount. Almakhan is bleeding from the nose and Nurmagomedov starts landing more elbows and punches. Almakhan tries to bump and sweep, Nurmagomedov rides this one though and retains top position but in half guard. Nurmagomedov into the ride position now and lands more punches, Almakhan’s face is swelling up and he can’t get away from Nurmagomedov as the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-8 Nurmagomedov as this was one way traffic, 20-17 Nurmagomedov overall

ROUND THREE: Almakhan misses a head kick to start the round. They trade rights then Nurmagomedov with a glancing head kick. Almakhan misses a right hand. Nurmagomedov hits a single leg and gets back on top in full guard. Nurmagomedov passes to half guard and lands a few more punches. Back to the elbows now for Nurmagomedov, he’s staying active with his ground and pound. A series of lefts from Nurmagomedov land. Almakhan tries to scramble, he gets to the fence but Nurmagomedov forces things into leg drag and he lands punches then gets the back. Nurmagomedov flattens Almakhan out but Almakhan keeps squirming and trying to wall walk. Nurmagomedov into the ride again, he’s fishing for the choke from there but Almakhan is still hand fighting well. Almakhan tries to wall walk again but Nurmagomedov flattens him back down and moves to full mount. Nurmagomedov with a few short elbows, and he postures up to flurry one last time but he wont find a finish before the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Nurmagomedov, 30-26 Nurmagomedov overall

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Umar Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26 x2)

I’m not sure that third round warranted a 10-8 but apart from that one moment early this was all Nurmagomedov. Mic time for Nurmagomedov, he says he didn’t see the punch that hit him early and he just kind of woke up on a single leg and finished it. He hoped for an easier fight but calls Almakhan kind of a monster, he kept hurting him but he wouldn’t go away and he thinks Almakhan will be a problem for the division. Asked about the future he wants them to remake the Cory Sandhagen fight, he came into this fight injured and feels he was only 50% coming in here and he plans on showing more next time. To close he hopes for the world to wake up and help those starving in Gaza.

Alex Perez has been a top flyweight for several years including fighting for the title back in 2020 but he’s struggled with activity as he didn’t fight for nearly two years after losing that title fight and his last fight was a loss to current champion Alexandre Pantoja in July of 2022. If Perez wants to keep his position as a top contender he cannot afford a three fight losing streak here. Muhammad Mokaev is undefeated including five wins in the UFC which have seen him climb the flyweight ranks, now he’s hoping to enter into the title picture with a win over Perez. Mokaev is a pretty big favorite at -380 while +300 on Perez has to be a tempting value bet.

Flyweight Bout: #8 Muhammad Mokaev (11-0 1 NC, 126 lbs.) vs. #7 Alex Perez (24-7, 125.5 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Mokaev is an inch taller with four and a half inches of reach advantage. They touch gloves to get us going. Mokaev misses a calf kick. Both men play a little bit with stance switches as they look for an angle to attack. Perez misses a couple of punches. Bit of a left hand from Mokaev. Mokaev tries a head kick, blocked then Perez lands a leg kick. Perez lands a left hook in close. Mokaev misses a few punches, he’s just a bit out of range. Perez lands a right hand. Knee from Mokaev in close then he tries a single leg but has to avoid a ninja choke and just breaks. Hard right hand from Perez lands and Mokaev is backing up. They tie up, Mokaev tries a trip but they just wind up wrestling to a stalemate then Perez lands a right hand. Bit of a right from Perez. Mokaev tries a double leg, Perez defends this one with relative ease. Perez misses a couple of punches then lands a calf kick. Body shot from Perez. Mokaev eats a couple of punches then tries a single leg on the fence, Perez defends for a bit but Mokaev eventually gets his head out of the chest and turns the corner to hit a double leg. The takedown isn’t really secured yet as Perez scrambles to his knees and Mokaev gets the ride position. A few punches from Mokaev, mostly blocked but he’s staying busy as the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Mokaev

ROUND TWO: Perez moves forward to start the round. Right hand from Perez but Mokaev jumps to the backpack position in a brief scramble. Perez breaks the hooks and Mokaev settles for being on the back in a clinch. Mokaev looks to drag things back down but Perez defends and lands a knee then a calf kick. Mokaev tries another takedown, Perez sprawls away from him then lands a right hand. Front kick from Perez then a right hand and a left hook. Mokaev tries a double leg on the fence, he slips to the back as they stand and Perez immediately breaks the grip and looks to turn into Mokaev. Perez is able to turn in and grabs a front choke attempt. Mokaev is hand fighting and Perez starts working through a front headlock series, Mokaev comes up on a single leg and Perez defends while landing elbows. Perez lands an uppercut before they break. Mokaev might be fading a bit, his legs don’t look all that steady. Perez keeps pushing forward. Bit of a jab from Mokaev. Both men land rights. Perez punches close then they clinch again. Perez avoids an attempted level change and again uses the front headlock to defend and threaten at the same time. Mokaev gets back up to his feet, but Perez breaks him back down with a power nelson as the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Perez, 19-19 overall

ROUND THREE: Both men probe with the jab as the round starts. Perez lands a jab then a left hook in close. Mokaev tries to clinch up but Perez uses another front headlock to ride him down to his seat. Peek out from Mokaev and he gets the back standing. Perez starts attacking the grip of Mokaev then lands some elbows. German suplex from Mokaev but Perez bounces up and gets back to attacking the grip around his waist. Perez breaks free and moves forward. Mokaev tries a single leg, Perez sprawls away and forces things back up. Mokaev tries to poke out offense, then Perez lands a right hand and Mokaev ties up. The wrestle in the clinch, Perez again uses a front headlock to control and defend. Perez lands a couple of punches before Mokaev gets free. They trade on the feet, then Mokaev tries another takedown but Perez defends yet again. Bit of a body kick from Mokaev. Perez fakes and Mokaev sits then Perez grabs a front headlock and lands a knee before Mokaev gets grounded. Perez with some body and head punches from the front headlock. Mokaev with another peek out to the back standing as the round ends.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Perez but a close one, 29-28 Perez but I’m betting Mokaev gets the nod

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Muhammad Mokaev via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)

I don’t agree but I don’t think it’s wrong either. Mic time for Mokaev he says he was sick this morning by way of excuse then puts over his team for all of their work. He was glad to have shown more than 6 strikes this time around, he wants to fight for the belt next.

Vitor Petrino is undefeated including three wins in the UFC, he’s hoping to continue establishing himself as the next rising force in the division with another win here. Tyson Pedro has gone 6-4 in the UFC but he’s 3-1 in his last four fights and he’s long shown moments of real potential but has struggled to be a consistent force in the cage. Pedro is hoping to build another winning streak here and prove he’s ready for a step up in class. The odds are with Petrino at -375 to a +295 comeback on Pedro.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Tyson Pedro (10-4, 205.5 lbs.) vs. Vitor Petrino (10-0, 205.5 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Pedro is an inch taller with an inch and a half of reach advantage. They touch gloves to get us going. Both men with some feinting as they move around. Petrino misses a high kick. Both men miss lefts. Calf kick from Pedro. Another calf kick from Pedro. Petrino lands a leg kick of his own. Bit of a right to the body from Petrino. Pedro lands another calf kick. Petrino lands a leg kick. Bit of a jab from Petrino but there’s just not a lot going on here. Pedro lands a body kick then avoids a high kick. Hard calf kick from Pedro, those are starting to add up. Petrino lands a jab. Body kick then a right hand from Petrino. They split jabs but Petrino is pretty clearly the harder puncher. Pedro with a front kick. One last leg kick from Pedro then he avoids the counters to end the round.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Pedro but could go either way

ROUND TWO: Petrino comes out looking to work his lead hand then lands a leg kick. Pedro lands a calf kick. They both swing in close then clinch up. Petrino gets things to the fence but Pedro is able to spin him. Petrino drops for a double leg, Pedro is defending at the moment and they wind up just back in a clinch. they break without incident. Petrino looks to jab again. Pedro lands a one two. Jab from Petrino, then Pedro lands a body kick. Calf kick from Pedro. Pedro lands a front kick. Petrino avoids a single leg and they wind up resetting. Pedro lands a calf kick. Petrino misses a high kick, but that’s some pretty crazy flexibility for a man his size. Pedro lands another calf kick. Front kick from Pedro. Petrino moves forward but misses another high kick. Petrino lands a jab then eats a front kick to close the round.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Pedro but again close, 20-18 Pedro overall

ROUND THREE: Petrino comes out kicking again. Pedro lands a calf kick then avoids a few punches. Body kick from Pedro but Petrino is pushing forward forcing the action. Petrino with a jab then misses a right hand. Petrino forces a clinch and they hit the fence. They fight for position then Petrino slips to the back standing. Mat return from Petrino and he gets to the ride position. A few punches from Petrino as he moves fully to the back while Pedro stands. Again Petrino rides Pedro down and lands a left hand. Another mat return from Petrino and some punches land, he’s just riding. Pedro drops to a hip and Petrino fishes for a few different chokes but can’t get things to develop. Petrino looks to get his hooks in from the back, he gets one in and starts fishing for another choke series. Full mount now for Petrino, he’s got an arm triangle attack but Pedro defends and will see the final round out.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Petrino and the clearest round of the fight, 29-28 Pedro overall but this is probably going to Petrino

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Vitor Petrino via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27 x2)

I can’t get behind Petrino getting the second but 1 and 3 no problem, but someone explain to me why this of all things was the co-main event. Petrino gets an interview for some reason, so he and translator put over Pedro and he thanks Pedro for the fight. He talks us through some “highlights” and says he wanted to show his complete game and feels he did so. To close he wants to fight a ranked opponent like Anthony Smith next.

They interview Pedro as well, he thanks the UFC and everyone but he’s ready to retire from active competition.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik has gone just 1-3 in his last four fights only managing a win over Chris Daukaus and was last seen getting more or less run over by Jailton Almeida. If Rozenstruik wants to get back towards the title picture he needs another win here. Shamil Gaziev is undefeated including a win in his UFC debut late last year, apparently that gets you into a main event these days and he’s trying to start a rapid ascent through the perpetually thin heavyweight division. Fairly close on the odds but they’re with Gaziev at -190 to +160 for Rozenstruik.

Heavyweight Bout: #12 Jairzinho Rozenstruik (13-5, 257 lbs.) vs. Shamil Gaziev (12-0, 261 lbs.)

ROUND ONE: Gaziev is two inches taller with half an inch of reach advantage. They touch gloves to get things going. A little bit of hand fighting from both me then Rozenstruik lands a leg kick and avoids a takedown attempt. Gazeiv keeps pressing forward and lands a bit of a right hand. One two from Rozenstruik lands flush. Another leg kick from Rozenstruik. Rozenstruik with some jabs while circling. Gaziev tries to tie up again but can’t secure position. A little blood coming from the nose of Gazeiv, that jab from Rozenstruik has been landing. Gaziev with a less than stellar takedown attempt and Rozenstruik defends. Rozenstruik lands a left hand. Right hand from Gazeiv lands. Rozenstruik lands another jab. More jabs from Rozenstruik, Gazeiv just doesn’t seem to have any ideas at the moment. Bit of a right hand from Gaziev but Rozenstruik responds with a combination. Gaziev punches his way into a clinch and they hit the fence. Not much happening in the clinch, Gaziev then tries a single leg and finally gets Rozenstruik down into half guard. Gaziev swings a few punches, not really landing but he’s trying. The round ends with Gaziev still on top.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Rozenstruik but might have gone the other way

ROUND TWO: Rozenstruik gets back to jabbing and looking to circle. Gaziev misses a right hand. Both men miss rights in close. Rozenstruik keeps poking out jabs and leg kicks, just trying to score and keep Gaziev at range. More jabs from Rozenstruik keep landing as he circles. Gaziev tries to get his own jab working but he’s not building on it. Rozenstruik avoids a right hand. Some jabs up and down from Rozenstruik, then Gaziev lands a knee to the body. Bit of a left hook from Rozenstruik to counter a right hand. Jab then a leg kick from Rozenstruik. Gaziev is breathing hard, might be the nose issue but his cardio also could be an issue. Rozenstruik lands a left hook. More jabs from Rozenstruik, Gaziev then tries a single leg on the fence but Rozenstruik defends and they clinch. Some knees go back and forth while they jockey for position. Things are stalling out but the ref stays out of it. They’ll end the round in the clinch.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Rozenstruik, 20-18 Rozenstruik overall

ROUND THREE: Rozenstruik back to jabbing and looking to pick at Gaziev. Gaziev definitely looks a little tired. More jabs from Rozenstruik, bit of a right from Gaziev. Rozenstruik lands a right to the body. Jabs up and down from Rozenstruik, just still breaking down Gaziev. Gaziev tries to bull forward and he lands a left but eats a counter right. More jabs from Rozenstruik and a bit of a left hook. Right to the body from Rozenstruik. That left hand from Rozenstruik is making life hard for Gaziev and he doesn’t have an answer for it. Bit of a right from Rozenstruik. That jab from Rozenstruik keeps landing and the nose of Gaziev is really starting to leak a lot. Calf kick from Rozenstruik then a combination in close. Rozenstruik keeps jabbing the body then lands an inside leg kick. Another jab from Rozenstruik. Gaziev is just kind of standing around. Both men land rights. Rozenstruik with some more jabs then a leg kick. Gazeiv walks into another few jabs to close the round.

SCORECARD: 10-9 Rozenstruik, 30-27 Rozenstruik overall

ROUND FOUR: Gaziev pushes forward as the round starts, and he walks into a few jabs. Leg kick from Rozenstruik, those are adding up for him. More jabs from Rozenstruik as he circles. Gazeiv pushes forward but can’t find a clinch, eats a right hand but then looks for another takedown but Rozenstruik defends and they clinch up. They trade a few knees here but nothing much is happening, frankly the ref could break them up. Both men miss rights as they break. Rozenstruik back to jabbing while Gaziev looks gassed. Calf kick from Rozenstruik. More jabs from Rozenstruik, he’s peppering away at Gaziev then lands a couple of solid rights. Left hook then a right in close for Rozenstruik, he’s starting to open up with his offense. Rozenstruik with more jabs to the body and head, this basically sparring for him at this point. Body shot then a leg kick from Rozenstruik. More jabs from Rozenstruik, he’s carving Gaziev up at this point. Right hand from Rozenstruik, then a body shot and a brief flurry to close the round.

SCORECARD: 10-8 Rozenstruik but a marginal one, 40-35 Rozenstruik overall

ROUND FIVE: Some controversy in the corner of Gaziev, the ref brings in the translator and the doctor to check on Gaziev, Gaziev said something that the ref didn’t like, apparently he said he couldn’t see out of one of his eyes and the ref waves it off.

OFFICIAL RESULT: †WINNER – Jarizinho Rozenstruik via TKO, referee stoppage, at 5:00 of Round 4

Rozenstruik gets an interview despite the fight being pretty meh, he is grateful for the time he had to work on things and is glad he could show his skills then puts over his coaches. He puts over his corner for guiding him and keeping him jabbing and moving forward to break Gaziev down. Asked about the future he wants to confer with his people and come back in July or August and doesn’t care who he faces.

Well on that note UFC on ESPN+ 96 comes to a close, it turned out moderately more entertaining than I thought it would be but whoever decided on that main and co-main combination made a grave error. At a minimum there were several flyweight or bantamweight bouts that were pretty good and should have been in the co-main slot. But either way we’ll be unpacking all of this on the 411 Ground and Pound MMA Podcast tomorrow and looking ahead to UFC 299. I’ll be back here for that PPV next week and I hope you will as well, but until then I thank you for reading, encourage you to stay safe out there, and remind you to keep checking 411mania for all of your pop culture needs.

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UFC on ESPN+ 96, Robert Winfree